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Microsoft’s cybercrime fighters in Asia

In 2013, an army of five million zombie computers began taking marching orders from an Eastern European cybercriminal kingpin.

These computers weren’t in a dark warehouse or an abandoned strip mall, but in homes and offices across 90 countries. The infected PCs belonged to a vast array of unwitting users who detected nothing out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, when its malevolent creators issued the command, the zombie army lurched to life.

The zombies recorded keystrokes, capturing login passwords and Social Security numbers, spying on financial information, and logging people’s most sensitive and personal information.

Over the course of 18 months, this botnet, nicknamed Citadel, stole half a billion dollars from students, bankers, grandparents and businesses. It was only in June 2013 that a coalition led by Microsoft, together with FBI and partners in the technology and financial sectors, took down the botnet. Citadel is perhaps one of the most notorious botnets in recent history but it is certainly not the last we will see.

In Asia, it is estimated that there are over 5 million IP addresses connected to millions of infected devices observed in the region, including India and China. And among the top 25 infected countries globally, eight of them are from Asia. The Asian countries in the list are India, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

These are but just two of the latest findings shared by the team at Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU). In fact, according to the latest third-party studies and statistics, Asia Pacific is currently the most actively targeted region for cybercrime attacks. It therefore comes as no surprise that 79% of CIOs in Asia are concerned about security, privacy, transparency and compliance of cloud-related solutions in a recent survey by Microsoft.

A white paper published by the National University of Singapore and market research firm International Data Corporation estimates that consumers in Asia Pacific would spend about US$10.8 billion (more than 40% of world total) in identification, repair and recovering data, and dealing with identity theft from malware on pirated software in 2014. The same study, also projected that infected pirated software and lost data would cost enterprises in the region around US$229 billion (more than 45% of world total) for the same year. Looking at the economic impact on both consumers and businesses, consider that the 2013 GDP for Cambodia is US$14.04 billion while Vietnam’s GDP for the same year is US$171.22 billion.

These alarming numbers have prompted Microsoft to take a more proactive stance in Asia, as part of its global fight against cybercrime. With the opening of the Cybercrime Satellite Centre in Singapore on February 16, 2015, the company stepped up its efforts to fight malware, reduce digital risks and protect vulnerable populations, to create a safe digital world for consumers, governments and businesses in this region.

“Microsoft is committed to expand its cybercrime fighting work across the globe to protect computer users, customers, and governments through threat intelligence sharing partnerships and public-private collaboration. Our Singapore, Tokyo & Beijing Satellite Centers are examples of that expanded commitment to bring more awareness and capability around cybercrime and help reduce malware threats and digital risks in Asia,” says Keshav Dhakad, Regional Director of Intellectual Property & Digital Crimes Unit, Asia, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft.

Taking the global battle against cybercrime to Asia

The Cybercrime Satellite Centre in Singapore will serve as the Asia Pacific hub for Microsoft to drive customer, industry and law enforcement engagement on cybercrime threats in the region. At the same time, it will be used to leverage cyber threat intelligence and use big data cyber forensics analytics to help Microsoft’s customers and partners make informed decisions on cybersecurity vulnerabilities and its link with unsecure IT supply chain. Last but not least, it will act as a nodal point to drive strategic threat-intelligence sharing partnerships and collaboration with key stakeholders such as National Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) & Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to foster a more secure and safer Internet ecosystem in Asia Pacific.

Singapore was the natural choice for Microsoft to set up its Cybercrime Satellite Centre, given its strategic location in Asia-Pacific, financial sector leadership, diverse and cutting edge business environment and a high-tech and mature IT ecosystem. In addition to being home to Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific headquarters and Microsoft Technology Center, the island state now also houses the newly set up Interpol Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI), which will be the epi-center for Interpol to investigate and fight digital crimes at a global level. This will facilitate closer cybercrime disruption collaboration between Interpol and Microsoft and will eventually benefit computer users, organizations and businesses in the region.

With one of the largest IT footprints in the world, Microsoft has been protecting and securing its platform, products and services for several decades, but what is unique about Microsoft is its ability to play ‘offence’ against cybercriminals. Keshav explains, “It is just not about defending our platforms from cyberattacks and building better security and anti-malware features into our products and services. What is distinct and unique is our innovation to proactively fight cybercrime, hand-in-hand with key industry and government stakeholders.”

At the forefront of this battle is the state-of-the-art Cybercrime Center in Microsoft’s Global HQ at Redmond, US, a tangible example of Microsoft’s commitment to protect its customers from cybercrime. Keshav says proudly, “At the Center, our customers, partners and vendors can witness live global cyber threat intelligence, and learn a huge deal about malware and their threats as we research them. It’s a unique factor for us to stay ahead of the curve on cybersecurity, understand new threats, and build trusted applications, cloud services and products.”

The malware threat intelligence data from the Cybercrime Center databases, under the program called “Cyber-Threat Intelligence Program (C-TIP)” is provided free of cost to around 45+ National Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) in geographies across the world. The C-TIP enables CERTs to not only understand live malware infection landscape in their respective geographies, but also undertake awareness & notification activities, including dissemination of anti-malware tools to get rid of infections. Several ISPs are also taking advantage of this free program, which has been customized for them to identify, notify and remediate any internal malware threats impacting their subscribers. Keshav further explains, “Today, we are proud about the fact that our cloud customers on Azure & Office 365 can take benefit of the CTIP program. It allows them to run live security reports to detect whether any of their IP Addresses have infected devices behind them and lets them take corrective measures in real time. With this Microsoft has now brought malware threat intelligence to the door-step of its customers”.

 

Once the Cybercrime Center in Redmond identifies new malware threats, malicious strains are investigated to understand their risks, origins and engineering, and how widespread is their botnet impact and victimization. The research can ultimately lead to a court-supported legal disruption action of the cybercriminal network. The DCU team collaborates with law enforcement, anti-virus companies, IP owners, academia, and industry partners to investigate, research and undertake effective disruptive actions. DCU’s actions against financial malware bots such “Zeus”, “Citadel”, “Game-Over-Zeus” or “Caphaw” were also made possible through strong collaboration with financial industry partners, such as the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC). In September, 2014, FS-ISAC signed a threat intelligence sharing agreement with Microsoft to fight cybercrime and protect the financial services industry. A similar agreement was also signed with FIS Global, the world’s largest global provider dedicated to banking and payments technologies serving more than 14,000 institutions in over 110 countries.

The Singapore Cybercrime Satellite Centre is one of five such Microsoft facilities in the world, with the others located in Washington (U.S.), Beijing (China), Berlin (Germany) and Tokyo (Japan), and these numbers will only grow with time. The Centre will support all major Southeast Asian countries, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

Keshav points out, “As a productivity and platform company in a mobile-first, cloud-first world, we strongly believe in trusted applications, devices and Cloud services. We want to deliver the best experience to our customers and partners, but with a deep commitment to cybersecurity, privacy, compliance and transparency, ensuring that users of our technology and Cloud services have a clear sense of ‘trust’.”

Fighting cybercrime pro-actively is one such way Microsoft demonstrates ‘trust’. Out of 15 global botnet takedowns in the last six years, 12 actions were led by Microsoft.

“The number of malicious codes (malware) are rising exponentially. Cybercriminals will strike where there is an opportunity for them to exploit IT supply chain and usage vulnerabilities and steal private, financial and confidential data from computers and misuse or sell it. The greater the malware infections, the more cybercriminals are able to cause massive disruptions and losses. With rising sophistication, everyone is vulnerable and the question is not who, but when one would be attacked.” says Keshav, emphasizing the rising global nature of cybercrime today.

Crucially, the battle against cybercrime doesn’t end there. All the learnings from Microsoft’s cyber threat intelligence and investigations against cybercriminals, helps build better security features back into our product and services. “For us Cybersecurity is not just one other important thing that we focus on. It is an integral part of building an IT ecosystem where people feel safe when they use technology,” highlights Keshav.

Microsoft has used this hands-on knowledge to strengthen the Windows Operating System over the years. “Any device that runs Windows 8 or 8.1 is protected by the most advanced and breakthrough cybersecurity features, including groundbreaking malware resistance and authentication features. Our Cloud cybersecurity, privacy standards and governance models are unparalleled in the industry,” says Keshav proudly. Microsoft is expected to take this to the next level with Windows 10 which will address modern security threats with advancements to strengthen identity protection and access controls, information protection and threat resistance. This new Operating System will move away from the use of single-factor authentication options like passwords, and deliver options to help enterprises protect against common causes of malware on PCs.

He concludes, “With fighting malware and cybercrime, we also want cybercriminals to know that Microsoft platforms will always remain hostile to their nefarious activities, and we will continue to invest in innovative technology and tools that help us fight new threats to protect our customers. That’s where we’ve been successful in creating a secure, trusted and reliable environment-be it on-premise or on the Cloud.”

With economic losses as a result of malware and pirated software expected to hit the Asia Pacific region hardest, the global efforts to fight cybercrime to create a safer world are more relevant than ever before!

-Microsoft News Center

Cortana – Your PA on the Mobile Phone

Cortana is your personal assistant on your Windows Phone. Like any good personal assistant, Cortana is ready to help whenever you need it, and she has a wide repertoire of things she can do. She's there to make things easier for you and keep you up to date on the things that matter to you.


 

Here are just some of the things Cortana can help you with on your Windows Phone:

•Make calls, send texts and stay organised – Cortana can help you make calls and send texts, see what's on your calendar this weekend and add events to it, set alarms and take notes.

•Interests – Did your favourite team win or did they get crushed? Is your flight running late? Let Cortana know what you care about – she'll find related articles, posts and updates on the web and have them ready for you when you want them. Keep on top of news, entertainment, weather, health and more. Your interests can even give you a glance at your day or help you prepare for a trip.

•Remind me – Need a nudge? Cortana can remind you to do something at a specific time, in a particular place or when you talk to a certain person.

•Get where you want to go – Cortana will give you help with directions or even let you know if traffic's bad enough that you should leave early to make your next appointment.

•Quiet hours and inner circle – Cortana will make sure you don't get calls or texts when you don't want to be disturbed (except from the people you tell her to let through).

•Cortana's Notebook – Your interests, reminders, favourite places, the music you've searched for, your quiet hours and inner circle – Cortana's Notebook is where she keeps track of the things you tell her about you. It's also where you'll find settings and where you go to turn Cortana off. When Cortana is on, some of the data in her Notebook synchronises to the cloud, where other Bing-powered services and apps will use it. To learn more, see the Managing Interests and Personalisation settings section in the Bing Privacy Statement.

•Get out on the town – Cortana can fill you in on events near you, help you pick a restaurant or tell you what's happening next month in Sao Paulo.

•Check the weather – Check the forecast for today. Or tomorrow. Or the week. In Dubai.

•Talk to me – You can chat with Cortana about whatever's on your mind. Ask her questions that you might ask a new friend, or tell her how you're feeling – she has opinions and stories to share. She'll even tell you a joke.

Tip

You can use your voice to tell Cortana what you'd like to do, who to call, what to text and more. Or if you're somewhere you'd prefer to keep quiet, you can type your requests. Cortana will then refrain from answering you with her voice too.

Notes

•Cortana is only available on phones with Windows Phone 8.1, and in some countries/regions. Check to see which software version you have and find out if an update is available.

•Some features for Cortana may not be available in all countries or regions.

•If Cortana isn't available, or you don't want to use her, you can still use the Speech functionality on your phone.

-Windows Phone pages from the internet

*Cortana is expected to be available on the iPhones and Android phones soon.

Spam, Hoax and Phishing Messages

Unwanted messages come in many forms, such as spam, hoax and phishing messages. Phishing Scams come in many varieties. Some are personalized, i.e. ‘spearphishing’, but most are sent out to the widest possible distribution. All these types of messages are broadly defined as unsolicited messages that try to deceive you and prompt you to act in a certain way.

You may be the target of a deceptive scheme if any of the following describes a message you receive, via messaging apps like WhatsApp or email:

  • The sender claims to be affiliated with the messaging app / WhatsApp.

  • The message content includes instructions to forward the message.

  • The message claims you can avoid punishment, like account suspension, if you forward the message.

The message content includes a reward or gift, such as an extended or free subscription. Please note, most of these app vendors work on a yearly service subscription model.

Beware of Phishing Scams that Spoof Legitimate Web sites

One phishing email in particular is circulating the internet disguised as a notification from the popular messaging service, WhatsApp. This message looks legitimate. Of course, one sure way to tell it is fake is if you do not have a WhatsApp account. (WhatsApp says in its official page that it does not use WhatsApp to send messages to you. It also states that it also does not send its users emails about chats, voice messages, payment, changes, photos, or videos.

You can also hover your mouse over the button and see what URL it will take you to without actually clicking on it. The links embedded in the email direct your browser to a malicious or compromised website run by hackers. Once you’re on the malicious site, malware is downloaded to your computer.

Don’t Click the Links! – Dangerous Downloads

As you can see in this example, the button wants to take you to livetonline.com, a website that has no affiliation with WhatsApp. If you click the ‘Play’ button or any of the links contained in the email, your computer may become infected. The link will takes you to a webpage that is telling you that you need to download Adobe Flash Player before you can see the message. If you already have Flash installed, especially the latest version, this should be another tip-off that this is a scam. (Mac and iOS users cannot be affected by this, as it downloads an executable (.exe) file, which only runs on Windows. The file most likely contains a virus, but Apple products are not affected).

This strategic and clever tactic is typical. These scam emails started appearing only one week after WhatsApp launched its web client. Before that, there were similar phishing scams circulating, appearing to have come from a WhatsApp mobile user. However, the timing of these new scams makes them seem more legitimate.

This is just one particular example. There have been other emails circulating around that look identical or very similar to the one above, though they may try to get you to download something else malicious, or even display a login page to collect your email address and password (this is a phishing attempt).

Kuluoz is one of the malware downloads associated with such a phishing scam. Kuluoz is a Windows targeted virus designed to stealing documents in Microsoft Word and Excel format. It is also capable of stealing all passwords stored in popular browsers like Firefox and Opera.

The Android mobile platform

Because of its popularity, the Android mobile platform has become an extremely profitable target for malware creators. Many times Android targeted malware is distributed through phishing scams. Malware sites associated with the ‘WhatsApp Messaging Service phishing scam’ can detect Android users and download a virus targeted at Android mobile devices. One such virus is droidFennec.out. The droidFennec.out virus allows an attacker to send text messages, make phone calls and access the internet using your device. The droidFennec.out virus can also enable permissions which would allow a hacker to make payments using your accounts.

What to do if I receive these messages

Prevention is the Best Cure.

Block the sender, disregard the message and delete it. To avoid exposing your contacts to potential harm, please never forward these messages to them.  

If you think that your computer may be compromised, go to the Microsoft Malware Protection Center for information on how to detect and remove the threat.

A necessary defense against this type of threat is antivirus software. Android users should ALWAYS run antivirus software to help defend against the increasing threat of infection posed by Android targeted malware.

Malicious attackers are becoming more skilled at ‘spoofing’ legitimate emails and websites. If you receive an email notification from a website, go to the site by typing the URL in the address bar of the browser yourself! If the message is from a website for which you have no account or you think it may be fake, simply ignore it.

Sway your way to interactive presentations!

Why make a boring PDF that is hard to read on a phone when you can make a Sway? You can reimagine how ideas come to life using Office Sway. You can quickly create and share your thoughts with a variety of multimedia using Sway’s polished, interactive, web-based canvas.

Who can use SWAY?

Professionals will be able to use Sway to save time at work and easily create engaging, eye-catching interactive reports, presentations, and more which flow responsively across all device types. For example, marketing plans/campaigns, blogs, proposals and sales pitches, project plans/updates, brochures/digital fliers, newsletters, weekly /monthly / quarterly / annual reports, training manuals, and so much more. Visit https://sway.com/smith_fashion for a sample.

In education, teachers can use Sway to engage students by creating and sharing interactive lessons and study guides, field trip reports, assignments and class project recaps, which they can also share easily with parents. Many teachers also document their best teaching practices with Sway and share them with colleagues. Students can have fun while learning and stay engaged by using Sway to breathe new life into reports, assignments, projects, study materials, and portfolios. Try this https://sway.com/0WDQZ9MXgWcRtczE for a sample.

Roll-out

Microsoft has started rolling out Sway to Office 365 business and education subscribers. Features relevant to business (and education) customers—including simultaneous coauthoring, creating interactive charts and embedding Office documents (such as Excel charts and graphs) are added to the preview version. Sway will initially support English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish, with more coming soon.

Sway

A “Sway” is what we call the canvas you create using Sway, and it’s much more than a document in the traditional sense. It’s built from the ground up for the web and devices. A Sway adapts to fit the device that it’s viewed on, large or small, so your ideas always get the best treatment.

Add your content easily

It is easy to collect your content from a variety of sources right within Sway. Sway shows you the stuff you have stored in the cloud: just tap or click, drag, and drop it right onto your canvas. Built-in content sources include OneDrive, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, your devices, or even embeds for your other content (coming soon!). And we’ll be growing that list over time.

 

Sway’s built-in design engine takes the hassle out of formatting your content by putting all of it into a cohesive layout as you create. This means that from the first word, image, Tweet, or graphic you add, your Sway is already being formed for you.

Working in a SWAY

You can adjust and customize the format Sway has created in easy and intuitive ways. Want a picture to stand out? Don’t worry about exact pixel heights and widths or whether you have the design chops to keep things looking good. Just tap or click the image in your Sway and tap or click the star icons to emphasize it. Sway takes your natural feedback and works its magic almost instantly. Want to rearrange your ideas? Just drag and drop any set of your content where you want, and watch your Sway react.

SWAY will shape the future of productivity for sure.

Outlook is more brainy – lists Action items in a mail

Let us assume that you have received a mail, If a phrase in the e-mail suggests a possible action, the Action Items app in Outlook 2013 and Outlook Web Apps creates a suggested Task for the user to review: All you have to do is click the Action Items arrow appearing near the top of the message to the left of a grey bar.

 

You can also flag the item for follow up and it will become a task in your tasks folder. Once the task is completed, you can either mark it as completed from the tasks folder or from the mail itself.